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Sunday, January 16, 2011
Bears-Seahawks: Five things we learned

By Jeff Dickerson



CHICAGO -- Here are five things we learned following the Chicago Bears 35-24 divisional round victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

1. Jay Cutler passed the first test: Cutler wasn't perfect. And if Cutler throws that goal line pick in the first half, an errant throw dropped by Jordan Babineaux, maybe the game takes on a different feel. But the Bears' quarterback certainly made big plays in the first playoff game of his professional career and should be applauded for the overall effort. Until Mike Martz got goofy in the second half, the Bears complimented Cutler with a balanced running attack and pretty decent pass protection, two keys to any quarterback's success in the postseason. Cutler even morphed into Tim Tebow on two running plays that resulted in touchdowns. But as always with Cutler, the most important stat was zero turnovers. Atlanta's Matt Ryan showed everybody Saturday night how not to beat the Packers: turn the ball over. Cutler was careless with the football in Week 17 at Lambeau Field, and the Bears lost. If Cutler can protect the ball in the NFC Championship Game, the Bears have a good shot at advancing to their second Super Bowl under Lovie Smith.

2. Charles Tillman took the rematch: I don't care if Mike Williams caught two touchdowns, Charles Tillman won the battle against the Seattle wide receiver. Unlike in Week 6, the Bears played tighter coverage against the Seahawks wideouts, and Tillman pestered Williams all over the field the entire afternoon. Matt Hasselbeck targeted Williams a game-high 13 times, but connected on only four of those throws for a measly 15 yards. While Williams appeared to be loafing, Tillman played like this game was one of the biggest of his career. Obviously, next week represents a big step up in class with Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, but Tillman showed Sunday he can still be an effective shut-down cornerback when required.

Greg Olsen
Greg Olsen and Kellen Davis were key contributors for the Bears on Sunday.
3. Greg Olsen is on the team: We were beginning to wonder about Olsen, since he only caught 41 passes for 404 yards in the regular season for his lowest totals since his rookie year (2007). But the tight end proved he's still a viable threat in the passing attack, hauling in a career best 113 receiving yards and a 58-yard score. For the Bears' sake, let's hope Martz utilizes Olsen vs. Green Bay, since Olsen combined for 10 catches against the Packers in the two previous matchups. Not only did Olsen terrorize the Seahawks in the passing game, he threw a few nice blocks in the run game. All around, I'd say it was his best game with the Bears. Granted, there are no slow-moving Lawyer Milloy types in Green Bay's secondary, but Olsen remains a mismatch every time he steps on the field. Now it's up to Martz to exploit that mismatch for a second consecutive week.

4. Tommie Harris can make an impact: This did not look like the guy who was a healthy scratch when the Bears played the Packers at Soldier Field in Week 3. Coming into the playoff matchup with Seattle, most people assumed Julius Peppers would the most impactful Bears defensive lineman. Wrong. It was Harris. The defensive tackle led the team in sacks (2), tackles for a loss (2) and quarterback hits (2), according to the NFL stat book distributed in the press box. The Bears may decide to cut ties with Harris after the season, but Sunday showed the former Pro Bowler still has life left in those legs. Imagine if the Bears can get that push up the middle from Harris next week against Aaron Rodgers. That would certainly help the overall defensive effort. If Harris is done in Chicago, what better way to go out than to help this team reach the Super Bowl, which would be a first for Harris. Remember, he was on injured reserve when the Bears made their Super Bowl run in 2006.

5. John Carlson's injury was a big loss for Seattle: First of all, it's good to hear Carlson and Marcus Trufant are okay after both had to leave the field on stretchers. But you simply cannot overstate how much losing Carlson in the first quarter threw the Seahawks off their game on offense. One veteran Bears defender said in the postgame locker room that without Carlson, Seattle lost its ability to run numerous formations and attempt numerous plays that otherwise might have been successful vs. the Bears' defense. It's hard to understand why Carlson decided to jump in the air when running toward the sidelines, since Danieal Manning clearly was in position to cut off the edge. If surrendering the 58-yard touchdown pass to Olsen wasn't bad enough, watching Carlson get carted off the field sucked any remaining momentum out of the Seahawks. For all practical purposes, they were done with 11:40 left to play in the opening quarter.